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ST. BARNABAS, APOSTLE
ST. BARNABAS, though not of the number of the twelve chosen by Christ, is nevertheless styled an apostle by the primitive fathers, and by St. Luke himself.1 His singular vocation by the Holy Ghost, and the great share he had in the apostolic transactions and labors, have obtained him this title. He was of the tribe of Levi,2 but born in Cyprus, where his family was settled, and had purchased an estate, which Levites might do out of their own country. He was first called Joses, which was the softer Grecian termination for Joseph. After the ascension of Christ, the apostles changed his name into Barnabas, which word St. Luke interprets, Son of Consolation, on account of his excellent talent of ministering comfort to the afflicted, says St. Chrysostom. St. Jerom remarks that this word also signifies the son of a prophet, and in that respect was justly given to this apostle, who excelled in prophetic gifts. The Greeks say that his parents sent him in his youth to Jerusalem, to the school of the famous Gamaliel, St. Paul’s master; and that he was one of the first, and chief of the seventy disciples of Christ. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and St. Epiphanius,3 testify that he was one of that number, and consequently had the happiness to receive the precepts of eternal life from the mouth of Christ himself. The first mention we find of him in holy scripture is in the Acts of the Apostles,4 where it is related that the primitive converts at Jerusalem lived in common, and that as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price and laid it at the feet of the apostles, that they might contribute all in their power to relieve the indigent, and might themselves be entirely disengaged from the world, and better fitted to follow Christ in a penitential and mortified life. No one is mentioned in particular on this occasion but St. Barnabas; doubtless because he was possessed of a large estate; and perhaps he was the first who set the example of this heroic contempt of the world, which has been since imitated by so many thousands, according to the advice of Christ to the rich man.5 This contribution was entirely free; but seems to have implied a vow, or at least a solemn promise of renouncing all temporal possessions for the sake of virtue. For Ananias and his wife Sapphira were struck dead at the feet of St. Peter for having secreted some part of the price; and were reproached by that apostle for having lied to the Holy Ghost, by pretending to put a cheat upon the ministers of God. Origen,6 St. Jerom,7 and St. Austin,8 are willing to hope that their sin was forgiven them by repentance at the voice of St. Peter, and that it was expiated by their temporal punishment. Though St. Chrysostom9 and St. Basi110 rather fear that they might perish eternally by impenitence. St. Austin, St. Jerom, St. Chrysostom,11 St. Gregory the Great,12 and the other fathers accuse them of a sacrilegious breach of their vow. St. Chrysostom,13 St. Basi1,14 and St. Isidore of Pelusium,15 observe that God, by executing his justice by visible judgments on the first authors of a crime, does this to deter others from the like; as in the Antediluvians, Sodomites, Pharaoh, Onan, and Giezi; but those who nevertheless despise his warning, and by a more consummate malice imitate such sinners, if they are not consumed by a deluge, fire, or other visible judgment, must expect a more grievous chastisement in the flames of hell, proportioned to their hardened malice.
Barnabas made his oblation perfect by the dispositions of his heart with which he accompanied it, and by his piety and zeal became considerable in the government of the church, being a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, as he is styled by the sacred penman.16 St. Paul coming to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, and not easily getting admittance into the church, because he had been a violent persecutor, addressed himself to St. Barnabas as a leading man, and one who had personal knowledge of him, who presently introduced him to the apostles Peter and James; and such weight did his recommendation carry, that St. Peter received the new convert into his house, and he abode with him fifteen days.17 About four or five years after this, certain disciples, probably Lucius of Cyrene, Simeon, who was called Niger, and Manahen, having preached the faith with great success at Antioch, some one of a superior, and probably of the episcopal order was wanting to form the church, and to confirm the Neophytes. Whereupon St. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to settle this new plantation. Upon his arrival he rejoiced exceedingly at the progress which the gospel had made, exhorted the converts to fervor and perseverance, and by his preaching made great additions to their number, insomuch that he stood in need of an able assistant. St. Paul being then at Tarsus, Barnabas took a journey thither and invited him to share in his labors at Antioch. Such a field could not but give great joy to the heart of St. Paul, who accompanied him back, and spent with him a whole year. Their labors prospered, and the church was so much increased at Antioch, that the name of Christians was first given to the faithful in that city. In the eulogium which the Holy Ghost gives to St. Barnabas, he is called a good man by way of eminence, to express his extraordinary mildness, his simplicity void of all disguise, his beneficence, piety, and charity. He is also styled full of faith; which virtue not only enlightened his understanding with the knowledge of heavenly truths, but also passed to his heart, animated all his actions, inspired him with a lively hope and ardent charity, and filled his breast with courage under his labors, and with joy in the greatest persecutions and crosses. He is said to have been full of the Holy Ghost, his heart being totally possessed by that divine spirit, and all his affections animated by him; banishing from them the spirit of the world with its vanities, that of the devil with his pride and revenge, and that of the flesh with the love of pleasure and the gratification of sense. So perfect a faith was favored with an extraordinary gift of miracles, and prepared him for the merits of the apostleship. By the daily persecutions and dangers to which he exposed himself for the faith, his whole life was a continued martyrdom. Whence the council of the apostles at Jerusalem says of him and St. Paul: They have given their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.18
Agabus, a prophet at Antioch, foretold a great famine, which raged shortly after over the East, especially in Palestine. Whereupon the church at Antioch raised a very considerable collection for the relief of the poor brethren in Judæa, which they sent by SS. Paul and Barnabas to the heads of the church at Jerusalem. Josephus informs us that this famine lay heavy upon Judæa during the four years’ government of Cuspius Fadus, and Tiberius Alexander, under the emperor Claudius. John, surnamed Mark, attended St. Barnabas back to Antioch. He was his kinsman, being son to his sister Mary, whose house was the sanctuary where the apostles concealed themselves from the persecutors, and enjoyed the conveniency of celebrating the divine mysteries. The church of Antioch was by that time settled in good order, and pretty well supplied with teachers, among whom were Simeon, called Niger, Lucius of Syrene, and Manahen, the foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch,* who were all prophets, besides our two apostles.19 As they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them by some of these prophets: “Separate me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have taken them.” The word separate here signifies being entirely set apart to divine functions, and taken from all profane or worldly employments, as it is said of the Levites,20 and of St. Paid.21 The work to which these two apostles were assumed, was the conversion of the Gentile nations. The whole church joined in prayer and fasting to draw down the blessing of heaven on this undertaking; a model always to be imitated by those who embrace an ecclesiastical state. After this preparation, SS. Paul and Barnabas received the imposition of hands, by which some understand the episcopal consecration. But Estius, Suarez, and others, more probably think that they were bishops before, and that by this rite is meant no more than the giving of a commission to preach the gospel to the Gentile nations, by which they were consecrated the Apostles of the Gentiles.
Paul and Barnabas having thus received their mission, left Antioch, taking with them John Mark, and went to Seleucia, a city of Syria adjoining to the sea; whence they set sail for Cyprus, and arrived at Salamis, a port formerly of great resort. Having there preached Christ in the synagogues of the Jews, they proceeded to Paphos, a city in the same island, chiefly famous for a temple of Venus, the tutelar goddess of the whole island. The conversion of Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul, happened there. These apostles taking ship again at Paphos, sailed to Perge in Pamphylia. Here John Mark, weary of the hardships and discouraged at the dangers from obstinate Jews and idolaters, which everywhere attended their laborious mission, to the great grief of his uncle Barnabas, left them and returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas from Perge travelled eighty miles northward to Antioch in Pisidia. There they preached first in the synagogues of the Jews; but finding them obstinately deaf to the happy tidings of salvation, they told them that by preference they had announced first to them the words of eternal life; but since they rejected that inestimable grace, they would address the same to the Gentiles, as God had commanded by his prophets. The exasperated Jews had interest enough to get them expelled that city. The apostles went next to Iconium, the metropolis of Lycaonia, and preached there some time; but at length the malice of the Jews prevailed, and the apostles narrowly escaped being stoned. They bent their course hence to Lystra in the same province, in which city the idolaters, surprised to see a cripple miraculously healed by St. Paul, declared the gods were come among them. They gave to Paul the name of Mercury, because he was the chief speaker, and to Barnabas that of Jupiter, probably on account of his gravity and the comeliness of his person.† In this persuasion they were preparing to offer sacrifices to them, and were with difficulty diverted from it by the two saints. But soon after, at the malicious instigation of the Jews, they passed to the opposite extreme and stoned Paul. However, though left for dead, when the disciples came (probably to inter his body) he rose up, went back into the city, and the next day departed with Barnabas to Derbe. Hence, after numerous conversions they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and the other cities already mentioned, confirming the faithful in the doctrine they had lately received, and ordaining priests in every church. They at length arrived at Antioch in Syria, and continued with the disciples of that city a considerable time, full of joy and thanksgiving for the success of their ministry. During their abode in this city arose the dispute relating to the necessity of observing the Mosaic rites. St. Barnabas joined St. Paul in opposing some of the Jewish converts who urged the necessity of observing them under the gospel. This weighty question gave occasion to the council of the apostles at Jerusalem held in the year 51, wherein SS. Paul and Barnabas gave a full account of the success of their labors among the Gentiles, and received a confirmation of their mission, and carried back the synodal letter to the new converts of Syria and Cilicia, containing the decision of the council, which has exempted the new converts from any obligation on the foregoing head.
St. Barnabas gives used great example of humility in his voluntary deference to St. Paul. He had been called first to the faith, had first presented St. Paul to the apostles and passed for first among the doctors of the church of Antioch; yet on every occasion he readily yields to him the quality of speaker, and the first place, which we must ascribe to his humility. Neither did St. Paul seek any other pre-eminence than the first place in all labors. At last a difference in opinion concerning Mark produced a separation, without the least breach of charity in their hearts. John Mark met them again at Antioch. St Paul proposed to our saint to make a circular visit to the churches of Asia which they had founded. Barnabas was for taking his kinsman Mark with him; but Paul was of a different sentiment in regard to one who before had betrayed a want of courage in the same undertaking. The Holy Ghost would by this occasion separate the two apostles, that for the greater benefit of the church the gospel might be carried into more countries. John Mark by this check became so courageous and fervent, that he was from that time one of the most useful and zealous preachers of the gospel. St. Paul afterwards expressed a high esteem of him in his epistle to the Colossians;21 and during his imprisonment at Rome, charged St. Timothy to come to him, and to bring with him John Mark, calling him a person useful for the ministry.22 John Mark finished the course of his apostolic labors at Biblis in Phœnicia, and is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on the 27th of September. After this separation St. Paul with Silas travelled into Syria and Cilicia, and Barnabas, with his kinsman, betook himself to his native island, Cyprus. Here the sacred writings dismiss his history.
St. Barnabas always remembered the conversion of nations was the province allotted to him, nor could he be induced to allow himself any repose, while he saw whole countries deprived of the light of salvation. Theodoret says he returned again to St. Paul, and was sent by him to Corinth with Titus. Dorotheus and the author of the Recognitions suppose him to have been at Rome. The city of Milan honors him as patron from a tradition, supported by monuments which seem to be of the fourth age, affirming that he preached the faith there, and was the founder of that church.* But how wide soever his missions lay, he always regarded his own country as the province especially allotted to his care; and there he finished his life by martyrdom. Alexander, a monk of Cyprus in the sixth age, hath written an account of his death, in which he relates that the faith having made great progress in Cyprus by the assiduous preaching, edifying example, and wonderful miracles of this apostle, it happened that certain inveterate Jews who had persecuted the holy man in Syria, came to Salamis and stirred up many powerful men of that city against him. The saint was taken, roughly handled and insulted by the mob, and after many torments stoned to death. The remains of St. Barnabas were found near the city of Salamis, with a copy of the gospel of St. Matthew, in Hebrew, laid upon his breast, written with St. Barnabas’s own hand. The book was sent to the emperor Zeno in 485, as Theodorus Lector relates.23 St. Paul mentions St. Barnabas as still living in the year 56.24 St. Chrysostom speaks of him as alive in 63.25 He seems to have attained to a great age.† St. Charles Borromeo, in his sixth provincial council, in 1582, appointed his festival a holiday of obligation. Nicholas Sormani, a priest of the Oblates, maintains that he preached at Milan,26 and St. Charles Borromeo in a sermon27 styles him the apostle of Milan.28
St. Barnabas, the more perfectly to disengage his affections from all earthly things, set to the primitive church an heroic example, by divesting himself of all his large possessions in favor of the poor: riches are a gift of God to be received with thankfulness, and to be well employed. But so difficult and dangerous is their stewardship; so rare a grace is it for a man to possess them and not find his affections entangled, and his heart wounded by them, that many heroic souls have chosen, with St. Barnabas, to forsake all things, the more easily to follow Christ in perfect nakedness of heart. Those who are favored with them must employ them in good offices, and in relieving the indigent, not dissipate them in luxury, or make them the fuel of their passions: they must still dare to be poor; must be disengaged in their affections; and must not be uneasy or disturbed if their money takes its flight, being persuaded that the loss of worldly treasures deprives them of nothing they can properly call their own.